H.O.T. Shots

The expression, “That’s hot,” has been around a long time
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The expression, "That's hot," has been around a long time. Meant as a compliment, it can be applied to a broad list of subjects. To this vast list, I add a new twist to its definition with regards to photography. Being a traditionalist and not one who likes to upset the apple cart, if someone tells me one of my photos is hot, I'll reply with a "Thank you." But, from this moment on, should someone hear me utter the same compliment, it will mean your photograph is "High On Technique." The sooner one learns to improve their technique, the more often others will say to them, "That's hot!" So, join me on this crusade and we can all get High On Technique.

Technique 1 - Depth of Field: Don't just take a picture—make it. The idea here is to create the image with the intent you have in mind. Don't set the camera on Program and let it make a decision for you regarding shutter speed and aperture. While the camera will provide the proper exposure, it doesn't know that you're photographing a landscape and that you need foreground-to-background sharpness. It doesn't know that you're shooting a portrait and you want to throw the background as much out of focus as possible. I know what some of you are thinking right now—some cameras have a landscape icon that programs it for lots of depth of field or portrait icons for shallow depth of field.

I offer you this— those same cameras also have icons for photographing sports. So, you set the camera to the icon of the track runner and fire away thinking that you're going to get the effect you want because you're shooting action. But, the intent of the action you want is a panned effect. Guess what? The picture you get back won't have it because the camera is programmed to fire at a high shutter speed and to pan; you need a slow one. The bottom line is I want you to learn how to take control of the camera whereby you make the choice for the intent of the image. Every situation will be different and although the computers inside cameras are intelligent, they don't know what you want the image to look like in the end. The Technique here is to learn the relationship between an aperture and shutter.

Technique 2 - Control The Natural Light: Nature provides many different qualities of light. It offers many challenges depending on the intensity. Bright sun falling onto a subject is the easiest to photograph with regards to getting a proper exposure and straightforward tones. Sidelight is more difficult depending on the difference in tonality between the highlights and shadows. Backlight is the most difficult and the image often winds up with near black or silhouetted foregrounds. Look for compositions where the sun can be placed behind a subject that works well in the image. Backlight can be augmented and there are a number of ways to accomplish this. Each has its benefits, but is very much dependent upon the size of the subject. Small ones can be augmented with a reflector or flash, but for the grand landscape, neither is practical. Incorporate the use of graduated neutral density filters or capture a bracketed series of exposures and run them through high dynamic range software. The technique here is twofold: learn to read the light as it falls on your subject and use the necessary filtration/technique so the end result is commensurate with the intent of the image.

Technique 3 - Flash It: Who says flash can't be used outdoors during the day? As a matter of fact, I use flash more often outdoors in daylight than I use it indoors as a main source of illumination. I use it as a source of fill to add light to shadowy areas that would otherwise block up and reveal little detail. I need to be close enough to my subject so the light from the flash can illuminate the shadow areas. I need to be cognizant of the aperture. If the lens is stopped down, the flash needs to be very close to the subject. When I saw the elephant take down an acacia tree, I wanted to record detail on its face. I unzipped my bag, grabbed my flash, mounted it to the camera, and immediately dialed down the fill ratio to minus two-thirds stops. Getting High On this Technique includes knowing beforehand what needs to be done when the situation unfolds, accomplishing the task in a time efficient way, and knowing the limitations of the flash. All in all, there are many other ways to get High On Technique. I hope this provides a foundation to get you started so I can say to you, "That's hot!" and you'll know what I mean.

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